- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 3, 2004

David Stern is hoping to soften the emergence of the Pistons in the NBA Finals.

That is certain to cost money, possibly tens of million dollars, well spent in the absence of compelling competition and the sight of the Pistons struggling to reach 80 points.

The commissioner’s marketing campaign begs the indulgence of the swing viewers, either tuned out or turned off, neither condition helpful to the NBA and ABC.

The Lakers have enough star power to fill two teams and enough sense to pretend in the worthiness of the Pistons.

The Lakers even might take a powder in a game or two to give the Pistons a measure of dignity.

The Pistons are perhaps the grimmest of the grim that has been representing the Eastern Conference since Michael Jordan’s retirement from the Bulls in 1998.

The star of the team is Larry Brown, the 63-year-old coach who is leading his seventh NBA team.

Brown deserves both the credit and blame of the Pistons.

The Pistons are the ugliest girl on the dance card, however effective their steps.

They have the mind-set of a hockey team. Ben Wallace is their goalie.

Do you believe in miracles?

The Pistons are obligated to consider the 1980 question around the Lakers.

Otherwise, this series is found lacking because of its seeming one-sidedness.

The Zen master even may have the luxury to revert to napping on the bench, which is his favorite pastime in the regular season.

The Pistons are determined to play hard, however hard it is to watch. It is what they do best.

They might offer a trace of competitiveness, as it goes with falling by 7-10 points. Yet that is the extent of it, a five- or six-game series, depending on the urgency of the Lakers to start their summer vacation.

The Pistons do not have one clear advantage on the Lakers. The Pistons do not even have one dominant scoring option, which is not to dismiss Richard Hamilton’s team-leading 21.5 scoring average in the playoffs.

But let’s be clear on this: At the appropriate moments, Hamilton will draw the defensive services of Kobe Bryant, and then what?

Well, you know what. Hamilton’s Reggie Miller-like capacity to move without the ball won’t be so useful.

The Lakers, Shaq in particular, are bound to fall asleep in a game or two, not unlike their coach. They have made a habit out of employing the on/off switch the last three seasons.

They are the one team in a position to do so because of their abundant gifts.

O’Neal is liable to attract Rasheed Wallace, the stick figure with neither the muscle nor temperament to pose a challenge. The cat-and-mouse strategy of a second defender comes with the prayer that no one among the Lakers is able to sink uncontested 3-pointers with consistency.

The Pistons were able to infect the Pacers with their iron-clanking virus in the conference finals, which resulted in a sleep-inducing Game6. The 69-65 outcome could be appreciated only in Detroit.

No such affliction awaits the Lakers, not counting O’Neal’s mysterious forays on the free throw line.

O’Neal and Bryant could combine to account for 60 points in a game. Karl Malone, Gary Payton, Derek Fisher and Devean George are capable of dumping a big game on the Pistons as well.

The Pistons have no such weapons, only a casual acquaintance with the basket. They are best viewed in small doses, usually on ESPN, assuming a highlight clip is available.

They are a team that only a mother could love. Quick. Name their No.2 scorer in the playoffs.

All two or three fans of Chauncey Billups, take a bow.

Billups is well into his journeyman’s career, employed with his sixth team in seven seasons.

Stern is spending good money in the hope that no one holds the Pistons against the NBA’s showcase event.

Come see Shaq and Kobe. Watch the Mailman and the Glove secure their first championship.

And please try to forget what the Eastern Conference has dragged into June this time.

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